Ghosts have been a part of Capitol Hill from earliest days. Ghosts from the days when the Capitol was being built still haunt the place. During the 19th Century, ghost stories were frequent fodder for the pages of the newspapers, and reporters displayed a remarkable lack of skepticism. Or maybe that was because there was a large number of people out there pretending to be ghosts.
In fact, when the stories of Patrolman Sedgwick’s ghost were going around, the Washington Times cautioned the police to be hasty in their use of firearms. “It does not enter into the philosophy of these gentlemen of the locust and helmet that flesh and blood may be concealed by a ghostly shroud, and that the “gun” is not to be employed upon them until hand-to-hand investigation shall prove themselves to be ghosts indeed, in which case either hot or cold lead would be useless.”
The Times was not wrong in their suggestion. In fact, just five years before the admonition above appeared, another police officer had indeed caught someone pretending to be a ghost. Sadly, the only record of this event is a short article entitled “Probably of Unsound Mind.” in the Washington Evening Star of October 3, 1891:
Policeman Thomas Moore of the ninth precinct last night succeeded in arresting the man who has been playing ghost in Stanton Park, on Capitol Hill. The man, who is more than fifty years old, gave his name as John Errott and the officer locked him up on a charge of vagrancy.
When the case was called in Judge Kimball’s court this morning the officer suggested that the prisoner was of unsound mind and Judge Kimball in imposing a sentence of ninety days suggested that he be examined as to his mental condition.
No further news about Errott was published thereafter, nor does he seem to exist outside of this short article. This is hardly a surprise, as even the arresting officer made only a small mark on the historic record –once when fined for ‘dereliction of duty’ and the other when he died a few years after arresting Errott. At least he had not tried to use “hot or cold lead” in trying to apprehend the Stanton Park Ghost.
Nonetheless, interest in ghosts continued, and right before Halloween 1896, the Washington Evening Times reported that a “number of boys on North Capitol street have organized a “ghost club” for special duty on Halloween, October 31.”
What, exactly, these boys were hoping to find was not mentioned in the article. Certainly, Ghost Clubs had been around for decades, and were mainly interested in finding actual evidence of paranormal activity. Sadly, anything that the North Capitol street ghost club may have discovered has been entirely forgotten. And searching for “Ghost Club” just brings up lots of information about a 1914 Mario Bonnard (pictured) film of that name, none of which seems to have any relevance to today’s topic.